City of Portage community spotlight: John Siroky

City of Portage community spotlight: John Siroky
By: City of Portage Last Updated: September 14, 2020

Each Sunday we will feature a project going on within the city, happenings within a department or someone who works hard to provide services to the community. This Sunday, we talk to city code enforcement officer John Siroky on the role of his department.

Simply put, the job of the city's code enforcement department is to enforce the municipal codes of the city and to bring non-compliant issues into compliance.

But, ask 17-year code enforcement officer John Siroky what he does each day and it isn't that simple.

Most of the issues brought to his office are through telephone calls from residents issuing a complaint about something they don't feel meets city law - from unkempt yards to junk cars to recreational vehicles parked inappropriately.

So far this year, his department has responded to 710 calls including 250 complaints of overgrown grass. His department includes himself, a part-time investigator shared with the city's building department who was only added to the department this month and an administrative assistant, who works for both code enforcement and animal control.

When Siroky's department receives such a complaint, the first step is to investigate and document the concern and decide whether or not the issue does or does not violate city code, he said. That means going to a property, taking photographs, contacting property owners and working towards a resolution.

About 95 percent of the cases are resolved, sometimes after months of working with residents and sending repeat notices and citations. The other 5 percent end up in court.  

For example, the tall grass or unkempt yard complaints sometimes can be resolved quickly with a single visit to the property. Other times, especially if a property is vacant, resolution can take a significant amount of time.

Each case is different and has different requirements and time frames during which violators must bring the issue within compliance.

"We have to follow all legal procedures," said Siroky, adding those procedures are outlined in city code and state law.

Siroky said the department also has to follow law regarding when they can or cannot set foot on private property. In some cases, to complete an investigation, they must secure a warrant to continue their investigation.

Siroky does have authority, through the city's violations bureau, to issue fines, which while getting a scofflaw's attention, is only completed under strict guidelines.

"It is the last tool in the box we use to try to get someone to comply," Siroky said of the violation bureau.

Because of the number of complaints the department receives, they are prioritized with safety issues receiving top priority.

In addition to answering citizen complaints, the department also acts as the investigator for other city departments including the building and planning and community development departments.

And, while most of the cases are generated by citizen complaints, Siroky also receives complaints from other departments who are out and about in the city and report various violations to him.

"If we observe something that is a violation, we will address it, but with our limited manpower, it doesn't give us the luxury of seeking out violations," he said.

During the summer, vegetation, swimming pool, recreational vehicles and temporary yard sale sign complaints are the most common the department receives. During the fall and spring, the department is able to tackle other enforcement issues.